7. juni 2012

Danish Sports Manager Mikkel von Seelen: Problem with too few olympic kayak spots

Casper Nielsen is not particularly surprised with his k1 200m win at Bagsværd Regatta. Photo: Jens Thybo.

It was Gladsaxe’s Casper Nielsen who pulled home the victory in the men’s k1 200m at this weekends Bagsværd Regatta 2012.

- I’m not particularly surprised, Casper Nielsen comments about his victory. I know how my k1 level is when I’m in my current shape. But yes, the main focus and training hours have been on the k2, so you might have expected that it wouldn’t go as well as it did, he says.  

But having said that, the victory does not seem to make much difference, he comments.
Last week, the Olympic nominations for the Danish k1 200m spot were published, and Kasper Bleibach was selected, as he has already fulfilled the predetermined selection criteria.

Actually, the London Olympics will also be the premiere of the 200m event, and Jimmy Bøjesen secured this spot for Denmark at last year’s World Championships in Hungary.

In the following, Sports Manager Mikkel Von Seelen, explains the selection procedure determining who will qualify for the Olympic Games.

- Naturally, the nomination criteria have been prepared in a way that gives everyone clarity in due time of the grounds on which the athletes are selected, says Sports Manager, Mikkel von Seelen.

It very normal in many Olympic sports that the athletes have to secure the spot for their country one year prior to the games. During the Olympic year, it will then be determined who will fill out the national spot.

In connection with the Olympic Games, it is common procedure in many sports that the athlete who secures the spot for his or her country, not necessarily will be the Danish Olympic representative, the Sports Manager says.

- If we didn’t operate with national spots and subsequently national criteria in kayaking, it would mean that the selection of Olympic athletes would in fact take place in May 2011, since we can only enroll one paddler for the World Championships who can hereby secure the spot.      

To lock the names of the Danish Olympic representatives 16 months before the Games would be incompatible with the idea of presenting the strongest possible team, and I think most people can see this, says Mikkel von Seelen.

- When a national spot has to be distributed, the paddlers must race about it. This is relatively simple in k1, as you can race directly against each other. On the basis of the above criteria, it will be determined which competitions are relevant to the Olympic Nomination, and these have been public for six months, says Sports Manager, Mikkel von Seelen.

- Since Kasper Bleibach is the fastest Dane at the three competitions, he gets the spot. Last year, we had an exact similar situation regarding who should do the 200m event at the World Championships, and at that time, Jimmy Bøjesen was the fastest at the World Cups and hence, got the spot at the World Championships, says the Sports Manager.

- The reason why the Danish Canoe Association has predetermined which competitions are relevant in connection with Olympic nomination is of course to give the athletes the opportunity to focus on exactly those competitions. Thus, other competitions are not included in this connection. It is of great importance that athletes, now and in the future, are able to trust the predetermined Olympic nomination criteria, says Mikkel von Seelen.

It is impossible for DKF to prevent that one might ask the hypothetical question after the Olympics: would it have been better if another athlete were selected? And we will never know the answer to this question, he says. 

However, we have tried to make the selection as transparent as possible so that everyone knows what they are up against, and also to maximize the chances of presenting the best possible team. We are very well aware of how much the Olympic Games mean to the athletes, and we are handling the nomination with the required respect, says Mikkel von Seelen.  

Fundamentally, the main problem with Olympic kayak selections is that there are simply too few spots, says the Sports Manager.

In sprint, 264 spots are distributed over women’s kayak, men’s kayak and men’s canoe. Withdraw from this a handful of spots for the hosting nation. 80 spots go to k4, and that leaves about 180 spots for the rest of the sprinting canoe and kayak events. This number is so low, that world-class athletes, who would qualify in most other sports, are being wrecked, he explains.

From a sports-oriented perspective, it would be great and most fair if we could enroll two or three athletes or boats in every event, like it is done in swimming or athletics.

The way things are now, some boats with obvious medal potential even from the strongest nations are forced to stay home from the Olympic Games, says the Sports Manager.

 Translation: Birgit Pontoppidan